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The archaeology of death and burial in the ancient Near East


Admission requirements

Propedeuse (first year) Archaeology obtained.


How did people in the past deal with death and how can we as archaeologists understand past burial practices? What can they tell us about past societies and their ideals?
The 'archaeology of death' is characterised by a great diversity of perspectives, approaches, and methods. In the Near East, burial practices are, moreover, extraordinarily diverse in terms of time and space. This diversity reflects the complex cultural mosaic of the region, but also changing attitudes in society towards handling the dead.
The earliest graves date back to the Epipalaeolithic, and are commonly found in a settlement context, a practice also common in the Neolithic in which we encounter numerous secondary burial practices.

In the Bronze Age cemeteries seem to be commonplace, and we see an increasing differentiation in burial customs and grave assemblages. In the Bronze Age and the Iron Age monumental tombs also make their appearance.
In this course we discuss the main archaeological theories on how to interpret these burial types, and apply these theories to a number of case studies.

Course objectives

The student:

  • will gain insight into how to interpret burial practices: what models and theories archaeologists use for interpreting ancient graves;

  • will gain insight into the long-term developments in burial practices in the ancient Near East;

  • can relate these burial practices to their broader socio-cultural context.


Course schedule details can be found in the BA3 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

Seminar presented by various members of the Near East department.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7x2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 280 pages of literature with weekly assignments (2 ec);

  • Final essay of max. 3,000 words (2 ec).

Assessment method

  • Weekly reviews discussing the reading assignment of that week (30%);

  • A final essay of max. 3,000 words dealing with one of the case studies discussed in class (70%).

The weekly review essays have to be submitted via BlackBoard prior to each class.

A retake is only possible for the final essay and only if all requirements, including attendance, have been met.

All exam dates (exams, re-sits, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA3 examination schedule.

Reading list

General reading:

  • Parker Pearson, M. (1999). The Archaeology of Death and Burial. Thrupp, Sutton Publishing. (204 p.);
    This will be supplemented with topical papers for each session. The reading list will be distributed via BlackBoard 2 weeks prior to the first class meeting.


Registration for the course or the exam is not required.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. B.S. Düring.


Compulsory attendance.